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June 24, 2014 - No. 60

June 24, 2014

Quebec's National Holiday

Montrealers from all walks of life celebrate the "Fête nationale," Quebec's National Holiday, June 24, 2012,
in the context of the mass actions of students in defence of the right to education.

June 24, 2014
Quebec's National Holiday - Geneviève Royer
Origins of June 24 Celebrations

June 24, 2014

Quebec's National Holiday

Quebec's National Holiday on June 24 is an opportunity to celebrate -- with music and song, meetings, parades and neighbourhood activities -- who we are as a people, where we have come from and where we are going. This is a multi-facted celebration, similar to the ancient summer solstice and harvest festivals, recognizing the need to come together to collectively celebrate our common history.

It is also a political celebration, a quality that varies in its expression depending on the times and circumstances. It is an occasion to reflect on the conduct of our leaders and discuss the state of the nation. This need to collectively take stock of the situation grows with the marginalization of the people from political power.

That sense of not being able to exercise control over our lives, of being unable to solve society's problems, has never been greater. Yet, by drawing on our rich history, unique experience of living together and relying on the youth to questions all dogmas, the Quebec people are at the dawn of a profound renewal of the society. The primary problem to grapple with is the question of "Who decides?" Settling this question in the people's favour is the most unifying endeavour today, one that is directly descended from the struggle of the Patriots of 1837-1838 for a Republic of Quebec.

Today the governments of Canada and of Quebec turn the question of who decides into a matter of avoiding quarrels. Under the pretext of dealing with the "real issues" they impose the agenda of private economic interests. This is possible because of a corrupt electoral process that allows the rich minority to usurp decision-making power, while they sow division in the body politic based on old prejudices.

In his inaugural speech, Premier Philippe Couillard said that the election of the Liberal Party was a "victory for diversity" (as opposed to what the Liberals and Conservatives call "xenophobia"). Yet two paragraphs later he reveals his concept of "diversity" to be precisely the same as has been used to divide the body politic for the last 200 years. Couillard says his ancestors came from Brittany in 1613 then claims that we are all equal insofar as we demonstrate "a commitment to our shared values." According to him these are: "French as the common language of our public space, while respecting the rights and historical contributions of our Anglophone compatriots." One cannot find a more narrow and archaic conception of rights.

The reality is that the old Anglo-Canadian and European models of multiculturalism and integration are racist to the core and are in crisis. Couillard's words show that the refusal to settle the question of who decides and the imposition of backward models only make things worse. Only a modern nation-building project based on a modern definition of rights will solve the identity crisis and open society's path to progress. Membership in the body politic is a matter of right and rights belong to people by virtue of their being human, not based on their values or beliefs.

It is urgent to respond to this present situation of disempowerment and governments that serve private interests with full cognizance of Quebec's historical path. Quebec's National Holiday is another opportunity to review our historical journey and see how at all the major historical milestones, the defenders of the rich minority in Quebec and Canada use crises to block the efforts of the people to take their affairs in hand, so as to confound the spirit of renewal and maintain their stranglehold on power.

On the occasion of Quebec's National Holiday, at all the public gatherings, let us consider how to organize ourselves politically and together decide our fate. How can we unite in citizens' committees for democratic renewal in neighbourhoods and workplaces to keep the initiative in our hands and take the lead in deciding all the affairs of Quebec?

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Origins of June 24 Celebrations

The origins of celebrations on or around June 24 are ancient and varied. Among the pagans the summer solstice (which according to the Julian calendar falls on June 24), was celebrated by bonfires symbolizing the life-giving power of the sun. Today, these bonfires persist as the oldest symbol of these celebrations. In addition to being a ritual to mark the change of seasons, the ancient celebrations were also milestone in the agricultural production cycle -- the beginning of arduous work on the land to be completed at the end of summer.

In Catholic France during medieval times, the celebration was known as Saint John the Baptist Day, taking its name from the sanctuaries established by the Catholic Church to fight paganism. It was brought to the colonies of the French empire in opposition to the summer solstice celebrated by the Aboriginal Nations around the same date. The church, through the Council of Trent (1545-1563) attempted to Christianize that custom, a celebration of light around a joyous bonfire, by replacing it with a portrayal of submission in the person of Saint John the Baptist, "the lamb of God." In the same vein, Monseigneur de Saint-Vallier, in his 1702 Catechism for the Diocese of Quebec directed at the Canadiens, noted that the Catholic Church in the New World considered the ceremony acceptable so long as the "dances and superstitions" of the Natives were banished.

In 1908, Pope Pius X, advocating the division of the Canadian people into so-called French Canadians and English Canadians that the British empire was so determined to impose, named Saint John the Baptist as the patron saint of "French Canadians."

However, the celebration regained its popular character at the end of the 1960s with the resurgence of the movement for Quebec's independence and the people's sovereignty. The symbol of division and submission was swept aside and once again people danced joyfully around a bonfire. June 24 was renamed Quebec's National Holiday by a National Assembly resolution in May 1977.

It is also noteworthy that since 2004 on National Aboriginal Day, which also falls around the same time of year, a "Solstice of the Nations" is held by the First Nations in Quebec, along with a "Fire Ceremony." These events are "an expression of exchange and friendship amongst nations living in Quebec" so as to "encourage closer ties amongst the peoples living on Quebec's territory."

Today the celebration of June 24 rejoins another modern and forward-looking tradition established some 180 years ago -- the celebration of the Quebec nation and all its inhabitants. On March 8, 1834, 19th century revolutionary and progressive patriots founded the Aide-toi, le ciel t'aidera Society ("God helps those who help themselves"). The aim of that patriotic institution was to "provide a designated place for thought (to all those who recognized the necessity for change) to discuss the country's state of affairs" and "to rekindle the burning desire of love of country, either by shedding light on the deeds of those governing us, or by paying a fair tribute of praise to the eloquent and brave defenders of our rights." It was that society, led by elected representative Ludger Duvernay, publisher and editor of the patriot newspaper La Minerve, which on June 24, 1834 organized the banquet in the garden of the lawyer Jean-François-Marie-Joseph MacDonell to institute a national celebration for Canadiens of all origins. Today, the term Quebeckers of all origins is used.

June 24: 1834: Ludger Duvernay and the members of the Aide-toi, le ciel t'aidera Society
institute June 24 as Quebec's National Day. (www.fetenationale.qc.ca)

What was established on June 24, 1834 by Ludger Duvernay, his fellow patriots and the elected members of the Patriot Party was a national celebration. As for the original proposal, what Ludger Duvernay, the patriots and their political party organized was the celebration of the Canadiens, today the Quebec nation. Thus, it was the first celebration of the people of that nation, where Duvernay, the patriots, the elected patriots and their party recognized the people as "the primary source of all legitimate authority," and in doing so also recognized their sovereignty.

This nationality was constituted in the course of the people's opposition to the British empire's military aggression and occupation of their homeland, against the destruction and domination of their national economy by the monopolies of the British empire, such as the British American Land Company by oligarchs such as McGill, Molson and Moffat. Known as the Chateau Clique, they controlled the Bank of Montreal, imports and exports, naval and railway construction and transportation, the mining and metallurgical industry, the Montreal Gas Lighting Company, and McGill University, amongst other things. It was these forces who were served by the suppression of the nascent Quebec republic.

The members of that nation included indigenous peoples and those who hailed from Brittany, Normandy, France, Ireland, Scotland, England and other European countries. Canadiens were considered all those descended from the people of this new nation which constituted itself over time through the struggle for its independent development and the defence of its right to sovereignty. In undertaking their nation-building project, patriots of all backgrounds and their Patriot Party never acted in a sectarian manner based on language, religion or national origin. Never did they declare that they were "French Canadians," nor did they ever declare or take up the defence of "French Canadians." The writings of the patriots, the Patriot Party and its most distinguished leaders such as Nelson, De Lorimier, Chénier, Côté, Duvernay (La Minerve), O'Callaghan (The Vindicator) etc., never employed the "French Canadian" term or concept.

It should be remembered that the founders of associations based on the ethno-cultural, linguistic or religious origins during the 19th century were people such as McGill, Molson and Moffat. They used such associations to undermine the unity of the Canadiens in defence of their homeland, their national economy and the building of their republic.

This concept of "French Canadian," as well as today's concepts of "old stock Quebeckers" and "French Quebeckers," takes its origin from the colonial method of divide and rule. In this specific case, it originates with Lord Durham, the emissary and administrator of the British Empire who, following the suppression of the budding Quebec Republic through force, arbitrarily and unjustly divided the nation into "French Canadians" and "English Canadians." He falsified history for self-serving purposes. Durham claimed he found "a quarrel of two races," not the struggle of a people against occupation and domination by a foreign empire, against a state and an absolutist and tyrannical government and a struggle for an independent homeland and the establishment of a democratic Republic.

The real division was not between two imaginary "races" invented for all intents and purposes by the monopolists and capitalists of the British Empire and their administrators. It was between a nation in search of its independence and sovereignty, determined to establish its democratic republic, and a colonialist empire denying that nation's right to be.

The genius and force of character of that people which constituted itself the nation on these lands already inhabited by the Aboriginal Nations, was, amongst other things, such that they refused to accept the negation of their nationality by the British Empire. The British administrators and their collaborators and conciliators did everything to divide the people on an ethno-cultural and linguistic basis such as shamelessly calling them "French Canadians" and "English Canadians." The Canadiens refused the negation of their right to be a nation comprised of all members of their society, regardless of national origin, language and beliefs.

Instead, they adopted a name taken from a Native word, "kebek," thereby affirming their nationhood as the Quebec nation. (Kebek is an Algonquin word meaning narrow passage or strait in this case referring to the area of present day Quebec City and the narrowing of the St. Lawrence River at Cape Diamond).

The celebration of Quebec's National Day includes the celebration of our 19th century patriots, Nelson, De Lorimier, Côté, Chénier, Duvernay, O'Callaghan, etc. -- all those who fought to establish an independent homeland and republic which vests sovereignty in the people. It includes celebrating all those who have espoused and continue to espouse the cause of the Quebec Patriots, in particular all those committed to elaborating a nation-building project in conformity with the needs of the times.

Today once again the nation is called on to define itself in the context of the global turmoil of neo-liberalism. The resolution of this historical problem can only be guided by modern definitions as inspired by the patriots of the 19th century, in opposition to today's versions of the same old dogmas inherited from the colonial past. The nation-building project is once again intimately linked with establishing who decides and smashing the outmoded and archaic structures of the past. This is what will open a bright future for a modern Quebec nation that defends the rights of all.

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